Not Gentlemen At All
In which the League encounters the Fangirls.
Mr. Darcy had called together his staff. “Gentlemen, it has been a week, and we have not had a report from the Blackguards,” he said.
“They might be, er, busy,” said Mr. Bingley.
“Mr. Darcy, these are not the steadiest fellows,” said Admiral Croft. “Brave of them to go out, of course, nothing to say to that; but they aren’t to be depended upon for proper discipline.”
“I understand you,” said Mr. Darcy. “Nevertheless, I am concerned. I would think that if they had success they would wish to, er, lord it over us.”
The ballroom doors burst open at that moment, and two ragged figures staggered in. “Help us,” cried one of the men, who was supporting the other.
“Is that—Willoughby?” gasped Mr. Darcy.
“And Elliot?” said Bingley in astonishment.
Various people rushed to their aid. The men’s torn clothing, which looked as though it had been ripped off them by many eager hands, was covered with blankets, and they were each given a large glass of brandy.
Darcy waited until the brandy had taken affect and they had stopped trembling. “Can you tell me what happened?”
Willoughby shook his head and took a large sip of his drink. He closed his eyes as the liquid burned down his throat. He said in a strained voice, “I cannot speak of it. Do not make me.”
Mr. Elliot burst into tears.
After an hour or so, and another brandy, at last they were able to give a disjointed version of their adventures.
“But where is Mr. Crawford?” asked Mrs. Bertram.
The gentlemen all looked at her in surprise.
“Well, it is not as though I do not care what happens to him,” she said. “He did not return. Did he– did he–”
“Forget Crawford,” said Willoughby.
“He is fallen?” asked Darcy.
“He is in the clutches of the fangirls,” said Elliot darkly. “You won’t see Henry no more.”
“And what of Thorpe?”
Willoughby shook his head.
“Well,” said Darcy, who had grown paler as the blackguards told their tale, “we can’t just leave them there. General Tilney, Admiral Croft, we must plan and execute a rescue mission.”
A week later
The Laconia’s decks swarmed with red-coated Marines and the gentlemen of the Blankshires. Captain Wentworth said to Colonel Brandon, “We shall remain at anchor just offshore. Fire a red rocket when you are ready to return, and a blue rocket if you require assistance. If we see a blue rocket, we will fire a broadside.”
“I hope that we will be able to rescue the blackguards without violence,” said Colonel Brandon. “We have our special force here—” indicating Colonel Fitzwilliam and Captain Tilney “—and we are going to attempt a clandestine extraction.”
Captain Wentworth, who had some experience with the fangirls, said, “Just be sure to take the rocket, sir.”
Colonel Brandon saluted, and the boats were launched from the Laconia, the Grappler, and the Asp, carrying the Marines and the special army force to the shore.
The Marines were sorted into ranks and files, and, led by Colonel Brandon, Colonel Fitzwilliam, and Captain Tilney, they marched for a mile or so through a wood, unable to see their destination until they emerged and saw it sitting on a high point.
Colonel Fitzwilliam stopped, startled. “It looks just like…Pemberley,” he said.
The troops held up, and the three officers prepared to make their assault. They crept around behind the house, though secrecy was not necessary; the grounds were deserted, and the front door was wide open. They exchanged looks, and entered silently.
They crept along the hallway, which was in disarray; scattered papers, quills, abandoned laptops, and empty Nutella jars lay about. Music and voices echoed from the drawing-room, growing louder as they approached.
The door to the drawing-room stood open, only a thin black veil covering the door. They drew it back, and though they were all experienced military men who had seen many battles, they nearly swooned from the horrid sight before them.
Mr. Crawford was tied to a chair, his coat, waistcoat, and cravat all gone; his breeches hung in tatters; his shirt was still intact, but was untucked and hung slackly. His head lolled to one side, his eyes open but expressionless. His chair was surrounded with women, some sitting on the floor and some at tables, typing on keyboards and scribbling on paper.
“Wet him down again!” cried one of the women, and the others took up the cry: “Wet! Wet! Wet! Wet! Wet!” they chanted, pounding their fists on the tables.
Crawford roused at this. He let out a weak protest: “No, please,” he whimpered.
“Wet! Wet! Wet! Wet! Wet! Wet!” the women chanted, their cries rising in volume and intensity.
John Thorpe stepped forward, and cast a bucket of water over Crawford. His back arched and he let out a despairing cry. Thorpe cast another bucket of water over him. The women cheered; some flung empty Nutella jars at Crawford. After a moment they settled down and went back to their work.
Thorpe spotted the officers standing in stupefied astonishment in the doorway. “Hello, gents,” he said, walking over to them. “Can I offer you some refreshment?”
Colonel Fitzwilliam had to hold back Captain Tilney, who was growling and flexing his fingers, as though wrapped around someone’s neck. “Tibby, enough,” he said. “Mr. Thorpe, explain yourself.”
“He’s a traitor,” growled Captain Tilney. “He is giving aid and comfort to the enemy!”
“Oh, I don’t know about that,” said Thorpe. “The fangirls aren’t that interested in me. I’m just keeping busy, you know.”
“How can you just stand there and let them do—that—to poor Crawford?” cried Colonel Brandon.
“Well, you know, it didn’t seem so bad at first. The ladies were happy to see the other gents. Dashing coves, you know. Made themselves agreeable to the ladies. But then it just seemed to get…” his voice trailed off, and a blank look came into his eyes.
Colonel Brandon said quietly to his officers, “It looks as though Mr. Thorpe is suffering from battle trauma, and has begun to identify with his captors.” To Thorpe he said, “Sir, we are going to attempt to extract Mr. Crawford from his situation. Are you able to help us?”
“Oh, yes, of course. Happy to help. What say I draw them off, and you grab Crawford?”
“Yes, that will do very well, Mr. Thorpe, but are you sure you want to–?”
Thorpe turned and shouted, “Oi! Orgy in the library! Mr. Darcy, Lord Byron, the Duke of Wellington, Lady Hamilton, the Duchess of Devonshire, and who knows who else! Quick, before it’s all over!”
There was a moment of silence; then the fangirls shrieked, flung papers, and charged out of the room. The officers quickly untied the by-now unconscious Crawford. Tilney flung him over his shoulder, and with Thorpe in tow, they made their way back to the woods where the Marines waited.
Crawford was transferred to a stretcher, and the troops quickly marched back to the beach. They fired off a red rocket and launched the boats.
The Marines laid Crawford gently on a borrowed bedroll in one of the boats, and the officers sat with him and watched over him carefully. As the boats neared the Laconia, he opened his eyes.
Colonel Brandon leaned over him. “Mr. Crawford, can you hear me? You are safe. We have rescued you. We are taking you back to Pemberley.”
Crawford stared up at him for a moment, and then whispered, “The horror. The horror.”
Captain Tilney and Colonel Fitzwilliam exchanged glances. “He’ll be a long time getting over this,” said Fitzwilliam.
None of them spoke what they were all thinking: this mission was the League’s first failure. It could be excused that the blackguards were not proper gentlemen, and, as Admiral Croft had pointed out, not the steadiest fellows; but the operation had been launched under Mr. Darcy’s aegis and at his express request. They wondered how their leader would react. Was it a sign that the League would not be able to achieve its mission? Were Jane Austen’s novels doomed to be overwhelmed by the forces of popular culture? If asked, these gentlemen would all have said, “I will fight until the end,” but they could not help but wonder if their efforts might, in the end, be futile.
Only one thing could save them now.
Tune in for next week’s episode: The Ladies Take Their Turn. Same Janeite time, same Janeite station.Part the First — Part the Second — Part the Third — Part the Fourth — Part the Fifth — Part the Sixth — Part the Seventh